Favorite #74: Family Traditions

Christmas fun at grandma and grandpaw's

Christmas fun at grandma and grandpaw’s

Building Memories 

While it’s true Christmas has come and gone, the memories of time well-spent with family and friends lingers long after the presents have been put away or forgotten.

Memories of Christmas Eve services, performances of the Nutcracker, leaving cookies and milk for Santa or playing games with cousins are just some of the traditions many families look forward to each year.

About 18 years ago, our extended family began playing a game we call “Dirty Santa.” For this game, each member of the family over the age of two has the opportunity to choose a wrapped gift from under the tree. Sometimes the gifts are great and sometimes they are “gag” gifts, but the unknown is what makes this game both fun and scary. Some of the more notable “gag” gifts through the years have been toe art, sardines, “tacky” Christmas sweatshirts (which have to be modeled) and a bed pan.

While it’s true we have fun celebrating as a family, that fun is tempered with the knowledge not everyone is so lucky. Teaching our children and grandchildren Christmas is not just about “getting things,” but giving, we participate in service-oriented projects such as Samaritan’s Purse shoebox ministry, serving food at a local mission, or donating items to local charities.

Whatever your family tradition(s), just know the memories made and the love shared will reap benefits for years to come. If interested in finding new ideas for your family celebration next year, Pinterest is a great place to look. Scrolling through pinterest boards, recently, I found an interesting idea I want to try called “Christmas jars.”

Best selling author, Jason F. Wright, said he and his family started this tradition years ago when he began collecting spare change in a jar. Donating the money to needy families at Christmas, Jason has seen first hand the blessings this act of kindness has been for the recipients. Excited others across the nation have joined in this meaningful gesture, Jason shares some of their stories on his Facebook page. His novel, “Christmas Jars,”  gives deeper insight into what this act of kindness means and is available on Amazon.com.

Another great place to get ideas for Christmas is Katrena Allison’s blog, How to Keep Christmas Meaningful and Special for the Family. Katrena includes both do’s and don’ts, such as decorating for someone who isn’t able and guarding down time so as not to get exhausted. Having a number of blogs about the holidays, she includes one we all should read, How to stay within a budget.

Do you have a favorite Christmas memory or tradition you’d like to share? If so, leave a comment, message on Facebook or email dicysm@yahoo.com.










Favorite #70: Writer, Blogger, Friend, Katrena Allison

Writer, blogger, friend, Katrena Allison

Writer, blogger, friend, Katrena Allison

Connecting through Writing

While it’s true we should be thankful all year long, Thanksgiving provides the opportunity to reflect on our many blessings, surrounded by family and friends.

I’m especially thankful for friends like Katrena Allison, who are always looking for ways to help others. As a little girl, Katrena was one of my piano students. Losing touch until several years ago, Katrena and I reconnected when I published my first children’s book, Tired of My Bath. Seeing me at the Daniel Boone festival in Mocksville, NC, Katrena was one of the first to buy my book. Since then she has been one of my biggest fans, with her daughter, Abigail, even having a quote in my latest book, Tired of Being Little.

Excited to reconnect at the festival, I soon learned Katrena is not only a freelance writer, but maintains several blogs, teaches online classes, and in her spare time, teaches group fitness classes at the YMCA. If that’s not enough, she’s a single mom to three beautiful daughters.

When I began writing my blog, Katrena was kind enough to give advice, even volunteering to be a guest blogger. Submitting four guest blogs in 2012, she wrote about the similarities between writing and playing the piano. To check out those blog posts, click here.

Katrena says her journey as a writer actually started with journaling when she was just a child. Although this type of writing might never be shared with the world, she believes it could lead to a written work of art that may inspire others. Taking a quote from one of her guest blogs, she said, “Those who have found a way to re-sew the pieces that have become the patchwork of life may find a beautiful and inspiring new quilt pattern through the written word.”

There’s no doubt Katrena has the gift of the written word and especially has the gift of inspiring children through her educational games. Working with her own children, Katrena has learned to mesh together many ideas that led to creating fun interactive games designed to help with learning concepts for school. Those ideas and games eventually became part of her educational blog.

Noticing her talent at writing games for children, I asked Katrena if she could do the same for me. I was amazed at the quality of not only the interactive games, but also the word searches and printables she developed for each of my five books.

After Katrena developed the programs, my web designer, Will Gordon, incorporated them onto the home page of my website. I’m truly thankful for the expertise of both Katrena and Will because now those games and activities are more than just a dream, they are a reality.

Katrena, because of your gift of writing and your willingness to use that gift in making this world a better place, you are my favorite person of the week.

Check out Katrena’s blogs at the following links:











Writing-Music Connection: Success

Katrena Playing the PIano
Katrena Playing the PIano

This is the fourth post in Katrena Allison’s guest blog with the theme, the Writing-Music Connection. Katrena, a former piano student of mine, is an accomplished writer submitting articles to various magazines, as well as regularly updating her blogs. In this post, she addresses the journey of following one’s passion and what defines success.

 Making Music on the Screen

 Perhaps you are just beginning on a journey toward becoming a writer, or maybe you are an accomplished author. How do you know that you are a true writer? For me, I have discovered that it is that pushing and prodding to place my fingers on the letters. Those moments when I am almost asleep and suddenly get a story idea and must jot it down before I forget. The times when I look up from behind the screen to discover that it is 2:00 in the morning.

 Does writing really matter? Writers often never know if they have touched a chord with readers, but over time you can discover which topics seem to resonate. There are those special times when a reader takes the time to click on the comment button and share a piece of his or her personal experience with the writer. I don’t measure success by the numbers. Whenever a musician plays for a charity, at the bedside of someone who is suffering, or even at a bus terminal, they may not make money, but the music may be more valuable in those moments. When I click publish, I hope that I am leaving a lasting legacy, one that will play in the thoughts of readers for many years to come!

 I hope you have enjoyed getting to know Katrena as not only a writer, but also as someone who is knowledgeable about many things. She especially enjoys writing for children and regularly visits places of interest in NC with her daughters writing about their experiences on her travel blog.  Katrena often posts educational games and articles on her wildflower bouquet blog. You can check these out at the following links:

Writing-Music Connection: Mentoring

Katrena Playing the Piano
This is the third post of a four-part guest blog by Katrena Allison. Her theme for these blogs has been the music-writing connection. Katrena is a talented musician and writer,  submitting articles for publication in magazines and updating her blogs regularly.This week she’s highlighting the value of a mentor. Katrena and I have reversed roles, as I was her piano teacher when she was growing up, and now that I’m a writer, she’s my mentor. Pretty cool, wouldn’t you say?  
Mentoring Can Be Invaluable for Musicians and Writers
 A great mentor will balance the good with the bad. The best critics will identify your strengths and weaknesses and let you decide what you want to improve. If Dicy had simply given me a pat on the back every time I played a piece on the piano, I would have stagnated. Instead, she pointed out when I missed a note or rhythm. She would play the part for me, with me, and encourage my efforts to get better.
 I remember one recital in which I had practiced for hours and hours and hours. I knew the 9-page song by heart. I could have played it in my sleep and probably could have played it with my feet. When the big day arrived, I walked up there with shaking hands, ready to play. And I played, but my fingers were on the wrong keys. I kept playing. It sounded terrible for a page or two until I finally positioned correctly. As I came back to my seat, I knew I had blown it, but Dicy smiled and made a point of saying how proud she was that I kept going. I didn’t freeze or quit. She also mentioned that when I began playing for a church that it was important to keep playing while everyone was singing, and I did. 
Writing mentors may become cheerleaders but also encourage us to move to the next level. They might find something that works well while encouraging us to do other things differently. An editor that takes the time to give detailed feedback, however painful it might seem at the time, is often doing so because he or she believes that the writer has potential. You might want to throw darts at the screen, but after a few deep breaths and some extra scans of the information, you might find jewels within the bucket that seemed like all sand and mud initially. The editor is preparing one to write for others just as a music instructor is trying to develop skills that others can truly enjoy and appreciate. 
As a mentor, it’s important to keep in mind not only technical aspects of the craft, but emotional ones as well. As you can see through Katrena’s experience learning to play the piano, it was important that I was not only her music teacher, but also an encourager. Now that our roles have reversed, I’ve learned skills from Katrena’s expertise and gained confidence from her encouraging words. Katrena’s fourth post on the writing-music connection will be Thursday, June 28. In that post, she will address the work involved in publishing an article or story. 
Click on these links to check out Katrena’s blogs: 


Writing and Music Take Discipline

Katrena Playing the Piano

Katrena Playing the Piano

This is the second post in a four-part series by friend and past piano student, Katrena Allison. Katrena, a lover of music is also a talented writer, keeping current with trends by regularly updating her blogs and submitting new material to various magazines and internet sites. Today’s blog takes a closer look at the discipline necessary to be a writer and musician.

Writing and Music Take Discipline 

Even accomplished musicians need to practice. I remember dreading playing scales, but Dicy would patiently explain to me that these were the building blocks of future endeavors. I wanted to play the elaborate songs that I heard my brother play, but I had to begin with simple tunes that my fingers could handle. I had to listen and learn from those more accomplished that I. And I had to patiently practice. And practice. And practice 

Writing also takes patience and practice. I tried to find articles and web sites to which I was drawn and decide what worked well. And I had to find a niche. I started with writing online reviews then moved to writing for an online magazine, and finally started several blogs. My early efforts resembled those simple tunes of the primary songbooks. Perhaps they showed potential, but I was not initially ready to build my own site. I had to study the rules and work within those boundaries, making sure to read the contract before signing. The early experiences taught me much about how to write for an online audience and how to slant the same topic toward several different audiences to give my research more mileage.

I also learned how to be more organized. I write my articles as a Word document and save them on my hard drive – the last thing you want is to discover that hours of work have disappeared! I copy and paste links to the sites that I use for research at the bottom of my saved pieces. I also learned to carefully organize photos that I take, creating separate folders for each season of the year and then separating the shots into their unique experiences or place photos into general folders for flowers, sky shots, exercise, etc. Hunting and pecking for links and photos or re-writing entire articles can burn a lot of precious time.

Katrena’s third guest-blog will be published Thursday, June 21 with the following topic: Mentoring Can Be Invaluable for Writers and Musicians

Check out Katrena’s blogs at the following links:

 Travel NC With Kids

Wildflower Bouquets



Music and Writing Connection


Katrena Playing the Piano
Katrena Playing the Piano

My guest blogger is not only a friend, but also a past piano student. Katrena Allison is a writer who enjoys touching children’s lives in a way that brings fun and enjoyment. This is a four part blog with the first post explaining how writing and playing the piano are similar. 

Writing is Like Playing the Piano

When Dicy McCullough first asked me if I would consider writing a guest post for her blog, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. After all, I have known Dicy since I was a child, sitting on a piano bench with her at my side as she taught me everything I know about expressing myself on ebony and ivory, but what could I possibly write for her writing blog? Finally the idea emerged that perhaps writing and playing the piano are actually quite similar.

 Express Yourself With Either Type of Keyboard

Just as a pianist might express herself with the notes of a song, so also a writer may pour out one’s heart and soul through the letters of a keyboard and mouse. There have been many times that I have sat in front of the piano keys, playing music that touches my soul. Even though tears dropped onto the keys as I played for loved ones’ funerals, the music seemed to come and perhaps touch the hearts of those around me.

Journaling is something that I started in early childhood. One can feel a sense of release after letting one’s thoughts emerge in black and white. Many times this type of writing may never be shared with the world, but this experience may lead to a written work of art that may inspire others. Those who have found a way to re-sew the pieces that have become the patchwork of life may find a beautiful and inspiring new quilt pattern through the written word.

 I have found that I have been able to mesh together many ideas, such as creating fun games designed to help my kids learn concepts for school that will eventually become part of an educational blog. Creativity can keep it exciting.

 I enjoyed having Katrena as a piano student and now it’s my pleasure to have her as a guest blogger. Check out her blogs for creative ideas on trips and activities for children at the following links: 

http://travelncwithkids.blogspot.com/                                                                                                                                                                                                              http://www.wildflowerbouquets.blogspot.com         http://studentsurvive2thrive.blogspot.com/                                                 

Katrena’s second blog,Writing and Music Take Discipline, will be published June 14.



A Fun Day at the Daniel Boone Family Festival

Fun at Daniel Boone Festival

It was a fun day for everyone at the Daniel Boone Family Festival with vendors, music, historical tours and activities. The Daniel Boone festival is held the first Saturday in May in Mocksville, NC. Mocksville is in Davie County and home to many historical sites, such as the graveyard of Daniel Boone’s parents. Tours that were offered throughout the day included the gravesite as one of the stops.

As a vendor, I had the pleasure of sharing my children’s books Tired of My Bath, Tired of School and Tired of Being Different with not only children, but adults alike. I even had the pleasure of meeting US Congresswoman, Virginia Foxx, when she stopped to visit.  A friend of mine, Katrena Allison happened by at the same time with her three daughters and also met Congresswoman, Virginia Foxx.  After chatting for a while, Katrena took pictures of the occasion. I must say that was the highlight of my day.

Katrena writes a travel blog about activities and places to visit in NC that are not only entertaining, but also educational. If you are interested in checking out Katrena’s blog, you can find her at http://travelncwithkids.blogspot.com.